In October last year I wrote about the increasing use of foodbanks in the UK. Sadly this is a problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon; the increase in fuel and food prices and little or no increase in income means that many people are reaching the point where they simply cannot afford to buy enough food. This is exacerbated by changes to the welfare system, where many who rely on benefits to survive are experiencing delays in payments or even having them stopped altogether as a punishment for not being able to jump through all the government’s hoops (this includes the large number of people with disabilities who have been wrongly declared fit for work). Of course it’s not just so-called “scroungers” who are having to attend foodbanks; approximately 50% of UK children living in poverty are from working families.
In the year 2012-2013, approximately 400 foodbanks overseen by the Trussell Trust gave emergency food parcels to 347,000 people, of which 127,000 were children. As if that isn’t shocking enough, in the first 9 months of 2013-2014 they gave food to over 614,000 people. Despite claims by Conservative MPs and peers that the existence of foodbanks creates the demand for their services because people merely want free food (Lord Freud and Lord Tebbit), that people only use them because they cannot manage their finances (Michael Gove), have spent all their money on junk food (Lord Tebbit again) or whether foodbanks are seeing more people because of the drive to reduce food waste (can you explain that one again please Esther McVey?) it is clear that foodbanks are increasingly needed in the UK.
Contrary to the anti-foodbank propaganda, you can’t just turn up to a foodbank and walk off with a box of free food whenever you feel like it. Firstly you have to be identified by a professional (such as a doctor, health visitor or social worker) as being in crisis, after which they issue you with a food voucher. At the foodbank you exchange the voucher for 3 days worth of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. You can do this a maximum of 3 times in 6 months. All food is donated by the public, and sorted and distributed by volunteers.
Foodbanks have entered public consciousness. This is good in one way, because it means that those who are in dire need of assistance are likely to get it. However it also means that unscrupulous characters can try to take advantage of their plight. Just today the leader of the far-right British Nationalist Party (BNP) gleefully publicised his new policy of sending canvassers out with bags of food (only for “indigenous Brits” though – presumably those descended from Celts, Romans, Vikings, Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Normans need not expect a knock on the door!).
A short while ago a friend of mine tweeted about an elderly lady she encountered in a supermarket, begging the staff to “lend” her a ready meal as she had no money for food (I don’t know whether or not they did, but my friend and another kindhearted customer paid for giftcards for the staff to pass on to her). This should not be happening. Our elderly, our children, our poor and vulnerable citizens shouldn’t have to rely on charity to survive. This is the UK, we’re one of the richest nations in the world – why are there people starving? Why are teachers and schools having to feed hungry children? Why did that elderly lady feel that she had no option but to swallow her pride and beg in a supermarket?
Our government has spent months denying that there is any link between changes to the welfare system and foodbank usage, even trying to suppress the results of their own investigation when it showed that there was indeed a clear link. Our government has declined millions of pounds of aid from the European Parliament that was specifically intended to help relieve food poverty in the UK. Our government does not care about the poor and the hungry, about those who have to beg for food, who have to go to a foodbank to feed their family (and in some cases return most of the food because they can’t afford the electricity or gas needed to cook it).
But I care. And I’m sure you care too. So let’s do something about this and make our voices heard. Get angry. Write to your MP, your MEP, your council and your local press; sign and share as many relevant petitions as you can find, shout from the rooftops and via social media that this is not right, that this cannot be allowed to continue! Read and share blogs written by people like Jack Monroe, who have experienced this misery firsthand. And of course, find your local foodbank and donate to them. You can search for them online or ask at your local church, GP surgery or community centre. The Trussell Trust aren’t the only people to run foodbanks in the UK; FareShare do as well and so do many churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. Whether you donate food, your time as a volunteer, or money so that they can keep working, please give what you can. Your help, your voice, your anger and your donations, are all desperately needed.
UPDATE 16th April 2014
Today the Trussell Trust released figures showing that 913,138 people attended their foodbanks in the year 2013-2014. They run only 37% of foodbanks in the UK; assuming that attendance at the other foodbanks have risen at a similar rate, that’s almost 2.5 million people in the UK who at some point last year were unable to afford food.